Tourism businesses in Wales are spending Monday cancelling customers’ holidays after the first minister Mark Drakeford announced a two-week national lockdown designed to be a “short, sharp shock to the virus to slow down its spread”.
Under the new restrictions no one will be allowed to travel into Wales and all hospitality businesses will have to close.
The measures come into effect on Friday 23 October and run until Monday 9 November, putting paid to thousands of half-term holiday plans and leaving many tourism businesses under severe financial strain. Those forced to close will receive up to £5,000 in compensation from the Welsh government, but tourism bosses say it is nowhere near enough to cover losses incurred during the pandemic.
“With this announcement, the hospitality industry will close. My worry now is how will we manage? The up-to-£5,000 covers overheads but goes nowhere near to covering wages,” said Charles Dark, owner of the Wynnstay, a Georgian-fronted hotel and restaurant in Machynlleth, mid-Wales.
“Ours is a big hotel, we can accommodate 40 guests, and feed them while still maintaining the necessary distancing. Now, I’ll have to wait to hear who pays for the latest closure,” said Dark.
North Wales Tourism chief executive Jim Jones described the situation as ever more desperate.
“Some businesses have spent up to £40,000 alone putting Covid safety measures into place, on top of losing thousands in bookings,” he said.
Tourism is worth £3.2bn to the north Wales economy and provides 42,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the region.
“Once furlough finishes we anticipate we will lose about 12,000 of those jobs. If we don’t get more support it will be catastrophic. We don’t have anything else to fall back on,” said Jones.
Greg Stevenson, founder of Welsh cottage company Under the Thatch, said “Most of our owners also live in rural Wales (typically within a few miles of their rental cottage) and losing the October half-term income will be a real hit for them, after having already had their income taken from them for three months earlier this year. It’s the housekeepers, cleaners, laundry workers, gardeners, small cafe-owners and rural restaurants that will, again, be hit hardest.”
Family-run outdoor business Preseli Venture had already had to cancel a five-day half-term activity break because six of the seven families booked were coming from London, which is in tier 2, and therefore banned from visiting Pembrokeshire. Monday’s announcement removed any hope of running weekend activities into November. “It’s devastating. We’ve lost £12,000 over half-term, which is a lot for a small business like ours’ said marketing coordinator Ruth Jenkins.
Consumers are entitled to a full refund if a business can’t provide their holiday, but most are offering customers a credit note or change of date in the first instance. However, Jenkins said the longer the uncertainty continues the more likely people are to cancel rather than postpone.
“A couple of the families who were due to come at half-term have already moved their holidays forward at least once and at this stage people start to become impatient about leaving their money sitting in our account for another six months. If they think their holiday will be cancelled again at Easter they just won’t rebook,” she said.
Drakeford acknowledged the impact lockdown will have on tourism but said a total lockdown was necessary to stem the spread of the virus.
“I absolutely recognise the torrid time that [tourism] businesses have had. But that business is equally affected as any other bit of Welsh life by the fact that we have over 800 people already in hospitals in Wales because they are suffering from coronavirus.,” he said.
Many businesses have now written off 2020 and have concerns that restrictions will continue into 2021.
“This goes to show that what is required is one unified and coherent policy from all the constituent members of the UK, and I’d also include the Republic of Ireland. Let’s do what say, Tasmania and New Zealand did and have a proper lockdown for all of November, and we could get back to normal by Christmas. These half-measures will just drag out the issue into next spring,” said Stevenson.